Sunday, February 26, 2012

Zona Cafetera

Our school year includes a week-long (for Middle School), classroom without walls, trip for the students. For the past few years, the sixth grade trip has been to the Zona Cafetera, or the Coffee Zone of Colombia. The Zona Cafetera is about a 30 minute flight from Bogota, to the north-west. Most of our students do not travel within Colombia, so a strong focus of the Classroom Without Walls trips is that they learn about their own country and the differences in culture throughout the country.
It was incredibly interesting for me to see the area where the biggest, legal export of Colombia comes from and to learn about the coffee culture. It is completely agriculture, with small towns dotting the countryside. In addition to coffee, this area also grows plantains, bananas, and other tropical fruit. Coffee plants/bushes grow on the mountainsides, at about 5,000 feet in elevation.

Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip.
One of my students picking coffee. One key feature of the trip was that the students had the opportunity to pick coffee and realize how difficult a job it actually is. The mosquitoes were biting, it was hot, and they could only pick the red beans. Coffee workers make very little per kilo, so for the students to actually be able to conceptualize the difficulty of the work and the amount earned, was incredibly powerful.

Above, is the mythical Cocora Valley. Those tall trees are wax palm trees, where palm oil comes from. The Valley is often shrouded in fog, and has an incredibly feeling of peace and tranquility. We spent a morning here with a hike for the students to experience hiking and see this famous landscape of Colombia.
The most important part of our trip was the social project. We went to a local school where we planted trees and painted their outside wall for them. Often, our students are used to donating money, clothes, or school supplies for the less fortunate, but they don't often spend their time to help others. For the majority of the students, it was an eye-opening experience. They talked with the students from the school, got to know a bit about them and their culture, and then realized how poverty affects children. Most of our students assumed they were working with second or third graders, due to their low height, but they were actually fifth and sixth graders. Some of the local students told my students stories about their home life which included drugs and violence. My students realized how fortunate they are because of their education and the quality of the school structure in which they go to school. Many of the local students thought we were from Argentina because of the paler skin of the students. Before we left the school, we gave each student school supplies (pencils, pens, notebooks, and folders) since the majority of the local students do not have enough money to purchase them on their own.

Overall, the trip was a success. My students got to learn about a different area of Colombia, learn what poverty really is like, and they had some fun as well.